Obama and Bush are not so far apart says ambassador.jpg

Obama and Bush are not so far apart says ambassador


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SWEEPING INTERNATIONAL policy changes from the new Barack Obama administration are unlikely, United States Ambassador to Portugal Thomas Stephenson has warned.

Addressing members of the American Club in Lisbon last week, the ambassador pointed out that America was the first nation in the world to elect an African-American president in what was a predominantly white country.

He admitted that the Black, Hispanic and youth vote had been decisive in an election which saw the Democrats paint Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland blue.  

While the Republican ambassador conceded the election victory of America’s first black presidential candidate was “amazing”, “demonstrating what American democracy was all about”, he warned that when it came down to brass tacks, foreign policy would not significantly differ from the Bush administration.

“Expectations are running high, the elections in the US have confirmed in America what had already been confirmed for some time – that Bush was less than popular,” he said.

“Will Obama be different in terms of foreign policy? – I don’t think so for three reasons: Bush is not a unilateralist as some think and neither is Obama likely to be. Bush has shown a multilateral approach over Korea, Iran, Georgia, Kosovo, working closely alongside our international allies and organisations such as NATO, the UN and the EU,” Ambassador Thomas Stephenson pointed out.

“I don’t think there will be a lot of difference between Bush and Obama once you have left aside election rhetoric. When you examine the details of their positions on foreign policy there’s not much difference between them,” said Ambassador Stephenson.

The ambassador also said that Iraq had been a “non-issue” in the election campaign as US armed forces had made inroads into insurgency and gained control over the country.

Another reason was that both the State Department and Defence Department were “difficult institutions to turn around quickly in terms of policy changes” while he argued that the basic fundamental direction would be the same.

“While US interests would remain similar, what would differ was the “change in style and approach” from a gung-ho Texas style which had been unpopular in Europe to a more sophisticated and diplomatic approach which would be “more style than substance”.

Climate change

Then there was the perception that the Bush regime had been not bothered about climate change which was “not true at all”. The Republicans had “done a lot of work on climate change and renewable energy sources”, as cooperation with Portugal could attest to.

Most of Barack Obama’s attentions would have to focus on economic problems which had been the deciding factor in the latter stages of the election campaign and subsequent landslide victory which had seen a “mind-boggling” UShttp://www..6 billion spent, a 12 per cent increase in voter turnout, 121 million ballots counted and rising, and a 52.4 per cent victory by Wednesday early morning against McCain’s 46 per cent of the popular vote.

“Because of the financial crisis Obama’s attentions will be on the domestic economy” but the fact that UShttp://www.00 million campaign funds came from labour unions meant that the Democrats had to be careful not to “embark on a protectionist direction” which as a policy would “not be good for the United States.”

“This economic crisis requires bi-partisan cooperation, something which President Bush has realised and I hope this continues with Barack Obama,” said Ambassador Thomas Stephenson.

So what do Obama and his administration have to deal with when he takes office at the end of January 2009?

A rise in unemployment, a crisis in the real estate sector, a total budget and balance of payments deficit of US$ three trillion, soaring energy costs, the collapse of United States financial markets, and a middle class feeling the pinch.  

And while Obama and the Democrats had control of the White House and Congress (Republicans 40 seats against Democrats 54 seats) and an overall 60 seat filibustering majority in the Senate, it was still not clear how things would pan out in the House of Representatives (Democrats: 245/233 to Republicans 167/202) so overall “we don’t know the full outcome yet”, since there were still two seats to be defined in the Senate and 23 in the House of Representatives.

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